Loving the least of these: Lessons from the climate change report of the National Association of Evangelicals
Even before “What Would Jesus Drive?,” the 2002 climate change campaign led by the Evangelical Environmental Network, evangelical Christians have had a small but significant voice calling for care of the environment. That voice is growing and engaging scientists who are also evangelical members. However, in popular culture (or media), evangelicals have often been associated with skepticism about science, and political and economic positions that are at odds with environmental reforms. Self identified evangelicals make up about a quarter of the US adult population and are quite diverse. Many evangelicals who support environmental initiatives do so in part because of overlap with justice concerns of poverty, relief and development, and human health, and they donate money, time and expertise to organizations involved in these issues. They have a strong belief that there are things wrong with the world and that we are supposed to be acting rightly. Can connecting environmental degradation to these beliefs help effectively communicate about our environmental crisis? Through the process of writing a document published by the National Association of Evangelicals on the link between poverty and climate change, best ways to connect the assets of this constituency and ecological science were explored.
Successful campaigns have rallied American evangelicals to support mercury pollution limits as a prolife issue and have addressed resource issues like water availability. Relief and development organizations such as CARE international and World Vision have helped put climate change into new framework by making it a priority. Unfortunately, the politicization of the climate change discussion and its description in some of the news outlets accessed by evangelicals are challenging. A few unqualified spokespeople given a platform can sway the minds of many. Nonetheless, a persuasive dialog is occurring within the evangelical community, as evidenced by groups such as Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, who are motivating and empowering college students toward climate action, and by the statements of various denominations. The best practices learned from the success of this documents in bridging the gap between science and faith communities include: Providing sound science in ways that are respectful of faith, highlighting scientists who bridge this communication gap, emphasizing relationships, focusing on the most critical messages, finding a way to de-politicize this issue, and using the language of care, compassion, and moral decision-making. All of these further successful conversations with evangelicals.